India’’s long coastline and rich inland waters means that fishing is a major industry in the country, with over 14 million people involved in fishing and aquaculture. Fishing communities, however, are among the weakest in society, suffering from illiteracy, poverty and lack of knowledge about technology. Many fishermen are exploited by middlemen, but cooperatives can offer a way to empower them and improve their socio-economic conditions.

There are currently 14,620 primary fishery cooperatives in India, with 2.2 million fisher members. They are being given coordination, technical assistance, training and many other benefits by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Cooperatives Ltd. (FISHCOPFED), the apex national level cooperative organization for the development of the fishery cooperative movement in India. Established in 1980 as the All India Federation of Fishermen Cooperatives, in 1982 it officially became the National Federation of Fishermen’s Cooperatives. It unites state and district level fishery cooperative federations, and currently has 83 member institutions.

The goal of FISHCOPFED is to facilitate India’’s fishing industry through cooperatives, and its activities can be divided into three broad categories: developmental or promotional, welfare and commercial. FISHCOPFED, under administrative control of the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, works closely with the Indian government and the National Cooperative Development Cooperation, giving the many small fishing cooperatives a powerful voice in the country.

One of FISHCOPFED’’s most successful schemes has been the provision of insurance for fishers, compensating members in times of misfortune and guaranteeing better personal and financial security. In 2011-2012, FISHCOPFED covered almost 3.5 million fishers in the country with its centrally sponsored group accident insurance scheme. The federation is also actively studying the causes of accidents and fatalities to try to save the lives of more fishers.

Another important area of activity is with women, traditionally a neglected group in the fishing industry. Fisherwomen generally do not catch fish, but play a vital role in post-harvest activities. In order to empower them, FISHCOPFED is implementing a project on fish drying in the coastal states. In the past, several training programmes focusing on the women’s empowerment through net weaving, child care, family planning, health and nutrition had also been successfully organized by FISHCOPFED.

FISHCOPFED is also active in many other areas, such as assisting the cooperatives with marketing their fish. In order to supply bulk quantities of fish to the hotels of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) in Delhi and regular consumers, the federation has been running a fish retail shop, and will soon expand its network of shops to other areas. FISHCOPFED also arranges transport of fish in refrigerated trucks from landing centres to fish-deficinet areas, helping fishers earn a better return on their catch.

Small-scale and artisanal fisheries around the world are facing growing problems, with competition from industrial fisheries, increasing pollution, destruction of fish habitats and overfishing. FISHCOPFED in India is providing invaluable assistance to small-scale fishermen organized in cooperatives, helping their voices be heard.